America, Empire of Liberty: A New History of the United States

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"It was Thomas Jefferson who envisioned the United States as a great "empire of liberty." In this single volume history of the United States, prize-winning historian David Reynolds takes Jefferson's phrase as a key to the American saga. He examines how the anti-empire of 1776 became the greatest superpower the world has seen, how the country that offered liberty and opportunity on a scale unmatched in Europe nevertheless founded its prosperity on the labor of black slaves and the dispossession of the Native Americans. He explains how these tensions between empire and liberty have often been resolved by faith - both the evangelical Protestantism that has energized U.S. politics since the founding of the nation and the larger faith in American righteousness that has impelled the country's expansion." In America, Empire of Liberty, the voices of the past speak for themselves. Not just presidents from Washington to Obama, but ordinary men and women - settlers and Native Americans, slaves and immigrants, soldiers and farmers, factory workers and suburban housewives. Reynolds celebrates America's technological achievements and social progress. He paints vivid pictures of Gettysburg's battlefield, Chicago's stockyards, and the civil rights struggle in Montgomery, Alabama. But he also asks difficult questions about the cost of American greatness, from the Trail of Tears to the Red Scare and the War on Terror.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In an animated overview up to the present time, Cambridge historian Reynolds (In Command of History) captures the sprawling chronicle of a nation forged from the fires of revolution, populated by immigrants and constantly evolving politically and culturally. Reynolds constructs his story around the “richly, sometimes fatally ambiguous” themes of empire, liberty and faith in the nation's development. The American colonists who overthrew an imperial government themselves created an empire based on manifest destiny and removal of Native Americans to reservations. As for liberty, Reynolds reminds us that it was built on the backs of black slaves, but white Americans were free from the intrusion of the federal government in their personal lives until the New Deal, which dramatically changed the nature of American liberty. The development of religious denominations in America contributed moral fervor to many progressive causes, such as temperance, and animated America in the cold war and George W. Bush's “war on terror.” Reynolds draws on letters and other documents from ordinary Americans to show the uneasy relationship among empire, liberty and faith. Most readers will find Reynolds's epic overview provocative and enjoyable. 3 maps. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
A concise and still-inclusive history of America-from Cahokia to the 2008 presidential election-by accomplished British historian Reynolds (International History/Cambridge Univ.; Summits: Six Meetings that Shaped the Twentieth Century, 2007, etc.). The author, an evident admirer of the cohesiveness of America's vast, multicultural experiment, shapes this teeming history around three themes: empire, liberty and faith. He uses empire not in terms of possessing an empire-in the sense of Old World imperialist powers Britain and France battling for supremacy while the United States prided itself from its founding as an "anti-empire"-but based on Thomas Jefferson's use of "empire of liberty," wherein the opening up of the American continent invited a free movement of peoples under a strong federal government. Jefferson's detailed "template" for Western acquisitions allowed territories to be gradually incorporated into the union, essentially creating an empire, but neutralized under the strictures of the Founding Fathers and protected by what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. The migration west invited economic opportunity, a melting pot of religious and cultural heritages and a "new style of mass politics" that tested the strength of the federal government, especially in terms of slave-holding versus free states. Reynolds looks at the enduring "redemptive impulse" of evangelical Protestantism throughout America's history, and how this crusader mentality infiltrated politics, for better (Martin Luther King Jr.'s mission) or worse (Reagan's "evil empire"). Within this complex history-"rarely simple, often messy, and sometimes appalling; yet also full of surprises, frequently epic, and onoccasion wonderfully uplifting"-the author inserts human-interest stories, diary entries and speech excerpts. Though the final portion of the narrative feels rushed, Reynolds does as fine, fair job of covering the civil-rights struggles of blacks, women and Native Americans. An evenhanded distillation of America's story from a singular outside observer.
From the Publisher

Publishers Weekly
“In an animated overview up to the present time, Cambridge historian Reynolds (In Command of History) captures the sprawling chronicle of a nation forged from the fires of revolution, populated by immigrants and constantly evolving politically and culturally.... Most readers will find Reynolds’s epic overview provocative and enjoyable.”

American History Magazine
“Dazzlingly sweeping yet stippled with detail, this one-volume narrative runs from 1776 to Obama’s election, serving up fresh insights along the way.”

“Concise and evenhanded distillation of America's story from a singular outside observer.”

The National Interest
“Let us not mince words...this is the best one-volume history of the United States ever written.... At least on the face of it, no single mind can master this mountain of material, avoid the almost-inevitable factual blunders, negotiate the long-standing scholarly controversies, and control the narrative in clear and at-times-lyrical prose. But that is precisely what Reynolds has done.... [A] remarkable tour of the American past.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465015009
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Reynolds is a Professor of International History at Cambridge University and the author of eight books, including In Command of History, which was awarded the Wolfson Prize, and selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Cambridge, England.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps ix

Introduction xi

Part I Liberty and Slavery

1 Natives and Europeans 3

2 Empire and Liberties 21

3 Independence and Republicanism 45

4 Liberty and Security 73

5 East and West 95

6 Slave or Free? 123

Part II Power and Progress

7 North and South 149

8 White and Black 177

9 Capital and Labor 197

10 Reform and Expansion 221

11 War and Peace 245

12 From Boom to Bomb 273

Part III Empire and Evil

13 Red or Dead? 307

14 Rights and Riots 335

15 The Impotence of Omnipotence 361

16 Détente and Discontent 389

17 Revolution and Democracy 417

18 Pride and Prejudice 441

Conclusion 469

Further Reading 479

Notes 493

Acknowledgments 547

Index 549

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